Law Office Management
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Choosing Clients Wisely

By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.

Most client problems can be avoided by taking the time to choose clients more carefully. Despite what you may think, it is okay to say "No" to a potential client.

Client Selection Procedures
Regardless of the size of your practice, there should be client acceptance procedures. (Anyone walking upright is not a criteria for accepting a client.)

Being a more positive person than most, I suggest that you start with a description of the type of clients that you do want. Look at your current client base and determine which clients you enjoyed working with and which treated you with respect. While clients who pay their bills on time are important there are other considerations when evaluating the client.

Some clients should be avoided and everyone in your office needs to know what type of clients to avoid. If you have associates or partners or even staff who bring in clients, it is important to discuss the types of clients that should be avoided. If you are a solo, then you alone should have the final say about who is and who is not accepted as a client of the firm. If you have partner(s) you should have some criteria for clients and there should be an approval process for clients.

You should have a checklist of characteristics that list your ideal client and characteristics of clients that should be avoided. When evaluating whether to take a client, go through the list to help you make the decision.

In the book, How to Build a Personal Injury Practice, ABA, 1997, K. William Gibson lists some types of clients that should be avoided:
Late comers - Clients who show up right before the deadline. Don’t be a hero.

Revenge Seekers - Beware of clients who are looking for a pound of flesh. They may not be happy until they have some of yours.

Cash Cows - Do not trust a relationship if a potential client promises you future lucrative business.

Shoppers - These clients can probably never be pleased. Their last attorneys could not please them so there is no reason to think you will.

Commanders - There can only be one attorney directing the case - YOU

Dreamers - These are clients who have unrealistic expectations about the value or outcome of their case. It is your job to explain what the law can and cannot do. If they still have unrealistic expectations, this is not your client.

Bargain hunters - Be wary of clients who dicker over all fees and charges.

Poison Apples - Unless your client can get along with all your staff, you may not want to spend a lot of time working with this person.

No Shows - If a client misses the first meeting, do not consider a second meeting. This person will not value your time.

If you choose to not accept a client, then you should send a non-engagement letter and keep copies of these letters in a separate file on your computer in a file called "non-engagement". If you are uncomfortable with the client or if there are statute of limitations concerns, you should send the letter "return receipt requested."

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